Sunday Mailbag- Legal Retail Caricature?

March 8th, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I was wondering if you could give some information about drawing live retail caricatures (as in setting up on a sidewalk or in a busy tourist area.) I was curious about making things nice and legal.

A: That’s a question that is too specific to answer in general. The legal necessities for do retail caricatures differ by state, venue, circumstance, etc. Most of my expertise in this area would be drawing at theme parks and tourist retail centers or malls.

In almost all instances you would need to be licensed as a business in the spot you intend to draw at. If it’s a mall or a theme park, registering a legal “doing business as” (DBA) name with the state is probably all you’d need, but some counties or cities might require you to have an actual retail business license. Caricatures are taxable items in all states that I’ve ever encountered, so you would need to apply to the state you do business in for a sale tax number and account, and make monthly or quarterly tax payments. Other licenses might be necessary. It might be wise if you intend to make drawing caricatures a part of your ongoing income to register your DBA name with the feds and get a federal employer identification number (FEIN). That is basically a business’s social security number, and allows you to have a bank account under it and not use your social security number for business related accounts.

Setting up on the sidewalk in a busy tourist area likely needs some kind of vendor license. Cities all have different rules. You’ll need to contact the city government center and ask about vendor or “busker” licenses or what the requirements for that are in their city. One way around that is to approach a store that has a large storefront area and make a deal with them to set up doing caricatures in front of their shop. Some cities might object to that, but often they allow shop owners to use their sidewalks to sell merchandise so long as they don’t block the walkway too much. Giving the shop owner a percentage of your sales to generate traffic in front of their shop might be of interest to some, although if you get¬¨‚Ć big crowd and block their shop entrance they might regret it.

Most shopping malls and tourist retail centers operate a “specialty retail” area which are those pushcarts you see in the halls and along the walkways. These are small, self contained shops and are treated just like their bigger inline brothers. Specialty retail is who you approach to set up in a tourist retail center. You would need a business license, state tax ID number and a commercial liability insurance policy for certain to work specialty retail.

Theme parks are a little different. They usually collect the money and so they take care of the sales taxes, and your deal with them is a percentage of the net sales that they pay you. You don’t need a state sales tax number for that, because you are providing a professional service and earning a commission for that service. You’ll still need the business license and commercial liability policy.

Everywhere is different, but no matter where you are thinking about setting up I can guarantee there is already a system in place to make you pay tax, license fees, or whatever to set up and draw there. Ask the owners of the property or, in the case of a city sidewalk, City Hall for the necessary requirements.

Thanks to Kody for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


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